43 Folders

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Merlin’s weekly podcast with Dan Benjamin. We talk about creativity, independence, and making things you love.

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”What’s 43 Folders?”
43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

Modest Change: Cancel something

Our first modest change is to cancel something.

Think about all the things you've invited or allowed into your life in the past couple years (check all that apply):

  • RSS feeds (Oh Lord, RSS feeds)
  • net-based mailing lists
  • Broadband (or broader band) net access
  • Netflix
  • TiVo
  • Cable/Satellite TV
  • Magazine and newspaper subscriptions
  • Anything of the Month Club
  • those multi-person online games you kids like so damned much
  • always-on tech (like Blackberries)

Doubtless, many of these things bring you joy, relieve boredom, or even may be required for your work, but what do they all have in common? They are each ruthless at constantly replenishing the kanban of your attention with "stuff" that has to be dealt with. Having invited these things (and even paid for a few of them) you may feel obligated to consume them all to the point where acquiring, processing, and devouring them becomes like an inefficient part-time job. Maybe that's good. For me, it's become troubling.

Example: For a year we subscribed to my favorite magazine, The Atlantic. Where I used to love leafing through The Atlantic on the newsstand and then buying a copy to bring home, by the time the second home-delivered issue appeared, I was already jaded. "Feh. Another thing I have to read." And onto "The Pile" it would go. I'd taken something I occasionally did on purpose and for pure fun and turned it into an experience with all the anticipation and thrill of opening the gas bill.

I'm not suggesting you become a hermit or an ascetic or move into a mountaintop cave; just think about canceling one thing today. If you can't imagine life without TiVo (and I confess I cannot), try cutting a few shows off your subscription list. How about unsubscribing from a few RSS feeds? Maybe change your newspaper to weekends only. Switch to basic cable for a month. Take a two-week break from 43 Folders. It's cool; we'll be fine.

The important thing is to find at least one thing that's become a noise generator, time sink, or attention sieve, and be rid of it. The hack isn't how big a change it brings in your life -- remember these are modest changes -- it just matters that you mindfully elect to turn something off for a little while. That little scrap of time or attention you gain back is then well and truly your own.

Berko's picture

Merlin, this is a great...

Merlin, this is a great post! I also do the "If I want something I have to get rid of something" system, but that is usually to offset the cost of some new toy. (I sold my 4G 20GB iPod and Palm Tungsten T2 to pay for my new 60GB 5G. It's somewhat out of control. Trying to figure out what I can sell to get one of the new Mac Minis when they come out.) Of course, this is also partly through my wife's nagging insistence motivation.

The thoughts on magazine subs is good, too. I have a mantra that I use over and over, especially when I hear someone talking about how they are going to start some money producing endeavor doing something they love. If you start doing something you love for money, you will eventually not love it anymore. This is why I fight my urge to go into computers full time or work at the Apple Retail Store.

I second the sentiment about podcasts. As we speak, I am creating a list (plain text, natch) of sites that have audio content that I might like to listen to sometimes, similar to the RSS replacement mentioned above. Having done that, I am down to eight podcasts. Four of them are updated at most weekly (43F included here). Two of those are somewhat lengthy, but they are ones I look forward to hearing. (Ricky Gervais, for instance). Those that update more often are less than 5 minutes each. NBA video podcast, ScreenCastsOnline, and MrExcel I listen/watch every day. The last one is my weather podcast. I'm not sure if I will keep this one or not. Every time I think of unsubscribing, I get really apprehensive, even though I sync weather info to my iPod using Pod2Go (Great app, BTW.) and by the time I would listen to the podcast, I would be outside and already pretty much know the weather. I think I will kick it to the curb and see how/if I miss it.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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